LATEST: 60 killed as forest fires rage across central Portugal

UPDATE 12.15pm: Raging forest fires in central Portugal have killed at least 57 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road.

Nearly 60 other people have been injured, including four firefighters, in what Prime Minister Antonio Costa described as "the biggest tragedy of human life that we have known in years".

A lightning strike is believed to have sparked the blaze in the Pedrogao Grande area after investigators found a tree that was hit during a "dry thunderstorm", the head of the national judicial police said.

Dry thunderstorms are frequent when falling water evaporates before reaching the ground because of high temperatures.

Authorities had previously said that temperatures which have soared to 40C in recent days might have played a part in the inferno, centred about 95 miles north-east of the capital Lisbon.

UPDATE 11.25am: Raging forest fires in central Portugal have killed at least 60 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road.

Nearly 60 other people have been injured, including four firefighters, in an incident Prime Minister Antonio Costa has described as "the biggest tragedy of human life that we have known in years".

The fatalities occurred in the Pedrogao Grande area, about 95 miles north-east of the capital Lisbon, where about 700 firefighters have been trying to put out the fires since Saturday.

Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes said at least 16 people were killed when their vehicles were engulfed by flames on a road between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera, and three others died from smoke inhalation in Figueiro dos Vinhos.

No information has yet been given on how the others were killed.

Mr Costa said firefighting crews are having difficulties in approaching the area because the flames are "very intense".

UPDATE 8.50am: Almost 40 people have been killed in forest fires raging through central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road.

About 600 firefighters are fighting blazes in the Pedrogao Grande area about 95 miles north-east of the capital Lisbon.

Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes said 16 people died in their cars on a road between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera, while 23 others have been killed elsewhere.

A number of firefighters have been injured while tackling the flames.

Televised images showed a huge wall of flames leaping over the top of trees in the wooded region.

The fires come amid a heatwave in Portugal which has seen temperatures soar to 40C in recent days.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa has described the situation as a "tragedy of a big dimension".

He said authorities are working to identify the victims, and Spanish rescuers are to help efforts to put out the fires.

EARLIER: More than 20 people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road.

Portuguese radio station TSF, citing the Interior Ministry, said 25 people had been killed in blazes in the Pedrogao Grande area, about 93 miles north east of Lisbon.

Around 600 firefighters were trying to put out the blazes, which started on Saturday.

Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes said 16 people died in their cars on a road between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera and three died from smoke inhalation in Figueiro dos Vinhos.

Public broadcaster RTP said there were about 20 injured, including six firefighters. Fourteen of the injured were in a serious condition.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa called it a "tragedy of a big dimension".

He said authorities were working on identifying the victims and Spanish rescuers would help efforts to put out the fires.

Televised images showed a huge wall of flames leaping over the top of trees in the wooded region.

Portugal has suffered high temperatures that have reached 40C (104F) in recent days.

It is prone to forest fires in the dry summer months.

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